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There's a new workers' rights treaty in Canada. What does it mean for you?

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Although a global workers' treaty has been in force in Canada since January, an employment lawyer believes it won't do anything more to protect employees from violence and harassment.

The International Labour Organization says Convention 190, or C190, is the first of its kind aimed at ending violence and harassment. Canada ratified it on Jan. 30, 2023, and it came into force a year later.

"This is just more virtue signalling by the Trudeau government to give the impression they're doing something and preventing violence in the workplace, when there's nothing whatsoever in this that was not already the law in Canada and in every province," Howard Levitt, senior partner of Levitt LLP in Toronto, said in a video interview with CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.

Levitt said laws across Canada already prohibit people from committing violence and harassing others in the workplace, including online. If an employee is harassed in a way that no reasonable employee should have to put up with, Levitt said, they can file a legal claim against their employer for constructive dismissal, negligence or intentional infliction of mental stress, depending on what happened.

They may also have a claim involving human rights legislation if it is based on a covered ground such as gender, he added.

Key examples of workplace behaviour that people could sue for include sexual harassment, unwanted touching, shouting and having an abusive, toxic boss.

What is C190?

The C190 treaty applies to violence and harassment occurring, linked with or arising out of work, including public and private spaces, work-related trips, work-related communications, and commuting to and from work.

Under C190, Canada is required to implement laws, policies and collective bargaining agreements that prohibit, prevent and address violence and harassment at work, the federal government said in a January press release.

The federal government isn't planning new legislation or policies because Canada already meets the treaty's standards, which was required in order to ratify it, a spokesperson for the Minister of Labour and Seniors Seamus O'Regan Jr. said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca. Every province and territory agreed to have laws in alignment with the treaty when Canada ratified it.

The spokesperson said the federal government is encouraging other countries to sign the C190 convention and end workplace violence and harassment.

Bill C-65, which came into force on Jan. 1, 2021, is the most recent federal legislation on workplace violence and harassment. The bill implemented changes that the government said would strengthen Canada’s workplace violence and harassment regulations, including those addressing sexual harassment, sexual violence, discrimination and family violence in federally regulated industries and workplaces.

The Canadian government says it played a strong role in developing and advancing the C190 treaty. "No one should face violence or harassment on the job – not in Canada, not anywhere," O'Regan Jr. said in a statement in January.

"We joined countries around the world in this Convention to protect workers, and make sure every workplace is safe and respectful. That's not just a Canadian value. ... it's a protected right."

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